Hartley Magazine

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Home-sown therapy

Mighty oaks from little acorns grow – as do hope, serenity and a sense of purpose amidst mounting political and ecological chaos. It’s time to step up and sow.

Even the most sanguine gardener has their limit. I’ve just reached mine: a maelstrom of dispiriting, unsettling news – ecological, political, economic, the here and now, and the way, way off – has thrown me out of my generally steady kilter. I need my garden.

A quiet moment outside – mustiness in my nostrils, warm but weakening sun on my cheeks – is normally ample to settle and calm me. Bees bumbling among the flagging dahlias, and a crowd of redwings tearing through the air overhead, about to mob a berry-dripping rowan, are a perfect soothing soundtrack.

A fat acorn jolted me from my woes.

But even with extra-deep breaths, it’s not doing the trick; madness and mayhem have usurped mists and mellow fruitfulness. So I head for the old sessile oak tree at the wild end of the garden, hoping its deep fissures won’t inflict too much pain when I bang my head against its bark. But I needn’t have worried; a direct hit from a big fat falling acorn is punishment enough, jolting me from my petty, niggling woes. Rubbing my head, I pick it up, and it gets me thinking…

I let my imaginings rip. What I’m holding isn’t just a whole new unborn tree which could live for centuries, but a whole new ecosystem capable of providing shelter and food for over 2,000 other living things, big and small, over 300 of them dependant on the oak for survival. I’m standing on a thick, shiny carpet of unborns, each of which could become a towering ancient.

The ancient at the end of my garden.

The sun triggers a noisy shower of brown bullets around me, and I greedily start stuffing my pockets. The tree I planned to head-butt gets a loving hug instead (I check – no one’s watching). I scoop up acorns by the handful, until my pockets are brimful with hope. And then I’m off, setting aside the cares of the here and now, losing myself in future promise and endless possibility. I’m going acorn-sowing. What bad news?

The unborns are raring to grow, some already sporting a pale root-tip bursting out at their pointy end. I use a stick to make holes a couple of inches deep, pop an acorn into each, firm with a heel, and the job is done (a dibber or trowel does it just as well). I head out along footpaths, field edges and forest tracks where ‘scraping’ has exposed bare soil. On rough, disturbed ground, I fling a handful of acorns far and wide, casting everyday worries out with them. “Go!” I shout. That feels good.

I’m buzzing. When I come across acorns shed by other trees, I jab holes next to them, toe them in, firm the ground, refuel my pockets and walk on. Jays – nature’s own acorn-sowers-in-chief – eye me cautiously from afar, wondering if I’m putting them out of a job.

As if. As nature comes under growing pressure, not least from the looming threat to rip up human rules that give it protection from harm – more of that bad news – we all need to step up, quietly, wherever we are, and do some citizen rewilding. In villages, towns and cities, this full-on mast year means that acorns are raining down everywhere. Our shared, nature-aiding mantra is simple: make hole, pop in acorn, firm, repeat. Everywhere you can.

I stuffed my pockets with hope.

I have a couple of hundred future ecosystems stuffed into my own pockets, but I’m imagining how many potential ecosystems a hundred, even a thousand bulging pockets like mine could set in motion. I rest awhile under an ancient tree, in dappled awe, humbled that this life-bringer took root long before me, and will still be going strong long after me. Oddly, it feels good, calming, to realise that I have only a fleeting part in nature’s non-stop, infinite show.

I lean back against the trunk, eyes closed. I travel out along the far-reaching web of searching, connecting roots, wrapped in companionable fungi; I swim in the pumping sap, up the trunk, out along the shoots and to their tips, then jump free from the bronzing, about-to-fall leaves; I hitch a high-speed ride on a skydiving acorn – the whopper that nudges me from my mindful reverie.

I’m a long way from my garden, but this is still gardening to me – wild, untamed, urgent gardening, way beyond my garden fence, helping to sate that deep, irresistible urge to sow, to grow, to repair and heal, to add beauty, life and joy, in the blink that we all are in nature’s eye.

A tough young oak, raring to grow.

Then, a hundred or so holes further on, pockets emptying, I have a sudden pang to get home, to do some tamer, more measured gardening. I refill my pockets as I go, still firing odd handfuls into promising spots.

Back in my greenhouse, I calmly fill pots with a mix containing leaf mould made, fittingly, from nearby ancient oaks. Hedging my bets, I push two acorns into each pot, pointy end down, taking care with eager unborns already sprouting their first root (if both sprout, I’ll pot them up separately). Now to find a spot outside where they won’t get waterlogged; the shadow of the cottage’s eaves should do it. I won’t see anything now until next spring, but they’ll be busy making roots, a gestation unseen.

Next autumn, or even the following one, they’ll be tough young things, raring to grow in a fractured world that’s crying out for each and every one of them. Those will be good, wild gardening days, too. Days in which to lose the endless disquiet of the here and now; precious days filled with calm, imaginings and purpose; days when new life, new ecosystems and new hope take root. Days I can’t wait for.

But this day isn’t done yet. I give the ancient tree another hug, and start stuffing my pockets again.

Text and images © John Walker

Find John on Twitter @earthFgardener